Island School trip offers fun, service and enrichment

Fifteen Trinity College School students and two chaperones – Ms. Laura Baragar and Mr. Brandon Black – spent a week in paradise, learning about marine ecosystems and participating in environmental activities in partnership with the Island School in Eleuthera, Bahamas. During the day, the students were involved in experiential learning while in the evening they listened to educational presentations and reflected in their journals.

On Saturday, November 26th, the group set out in winter darkness at 4:00 a.m. and finished the day at sunset on the beach framed by palm trees. In Nassau, we were greeted by 26°C temperatures and a clear blue sky. Although the layover was long, the “puddle jump” to Governor’s Harbour airport was a highlight as our group piled into the small plane and enjoyed 25 minutes of the spectacular views of the tiny sand islands and sandbars that make up the Exumas. After a brief introduction to the Island School campus, we had dinner and helped clean up as part of the legendary “Dish Crew.” The Island School prides itself on being an intentional community where the structure of the day reflects its core values. Having everyone on campus, including guests and the headmaster, participate in daily chores reinforces the message that we are all responsible for contributing toward a positive and sustainable community.

The first full day on the island was a success and a great introduction to campus. Because it was Sunday, we were all allowed to sleep in before attending breakfast at 8:00 a.m. After breakfast, we participated in a scavenger hunt-style tour of the campus where students explored the campus, learning about such things as the Island School’s biodiesel system, solar power and aquaponics centre. Following that, we tested our swimming skills with an organized swim test where we swam a short distance and then had to tread water. I am happy to report that we all passed with flying colours. After lunch, the group was taken down the road from the school so that we could learn about mangrove ecology. There are three types of mangroves that grow in the Bahamas, red, black and white. Each has different characteristics and all grow slightly differently. Because they are home to many young fish, we then put on our goggles and snorkels and swam (although with the current we did not do too much swimming!) amongst the mangroves, sighting a number of various fish. During our free exploration time, most students decided to stay in the water and play Frisbee, while others took the opportunity to relax. After dinner, the students ended their evening by engaging in a lesson on the different species of fish and then a competition to test their knowledge.

On Monday, we got up nice and early at 6:00 a.m. so that we could hop aboard a boat and travel to a sandbar near the Island school. While there, one of the Island School faculty members taught a lesson on ooids (mineralized sand grains). We were also able to explore the sandbar, finding and learning about conchs, sand dollars and sea biscuits. A sting ray even swam by a number of the students! After breakfast, we did what is called a “loop tour” of the island. We took bikes out and visited various parts of the island, including High Rock. As well, we stopped by the marina and saw both bull and nurse sharks swimming around. After a delicious lunch, we were taken out on the boats again and explored the coral reefs. While snorkelling, students saw various corals and fish, and they were able to correctly identify them due to the lesson the evening before. We spent plenty of time in the water, and the students noted this as a wonderful experience. After the daily exploration time, where many students took the opportunity to relax or visit the marina store for a snack, we all participated in a “night wade.” Students explored the space below and around the boathouse where we saw a variety of fish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. And the group was able to spot two octopi! It was an incredible experience that I think none of us will forget.

Tuesday morning the group woke early once again to take some bicycles out and travel back to High Rock, but this time we jumped off it! High Rock is a special place for the semester students who attend the Island School, and they jump off the rock to signify the beginning and end of their 100 days on campus. Our students chose to jump off if they wanted (some did so many times) and then had a chance to do some snorkelling. It was definitely a great way to start the morning! After breakfast, the students were taken to the farm on campus where they grow various vegetables and fruits and have chickens and pigs. The farm staff informed the students of how they use the compost that we sort at meal times to both fertilize the crops and feed the pigs. As we toured the farm, we were able to sample some of the delicious homegrown vegetables and fruits. Students then helped with some gardening and planting various seeds. Many of the seeds were from different types of trees that, when grown, would later be transplanted and distributed around the island. As a special treat for their hard work, one of the farm staff opened coconuts and the students were able to drink the delicious coconut water. Some of the students even partook in cutting open the coconut themselves! After lunch, where we sorted our food waste used on the farm, the students hopped in a van and made their way to a local public beach. Sadly, the beach was littered with garbage, but after some time, the group was able to collect a large amount of it. Following our beach clean-up and dinner, the students attended a lesson on microplastics and their impact on the environment, particularly marine life. It was an engaging lesson where the group learned what microplastics were, how they are impacting marine life and ecology, and what we can do to make a difference.

Wednesday morning we started our day with the infamous “run-swim,” where we ran…then swam…then ran and swam some more! The total distance was about a mile and, in between runs and swims, we either participated in various exercises or team-building cheers. After a delicious breakfast, we joined the team at the Apon (aquaponics) center. The Island School has various researchers working on campus, and they taught us all about their aquaponics system, and then had us help them run it! Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics (the growing of plants without soil) and aquaculture (the growing of fish and other aquatic animals). The two systems work together where the waste from the fish is converted into nutrients for plants. Once the fish are big enough, they are harvested, and the vegetables that the fish waste feeds are used in the kitchen. Students helped transfer fish from tank to tank so that the team could continue to monitor their growth, they harvested lettuce, and they planted new seeds. The lettuce that was harvested was what we ate as part of our dinner that night. Later in the day, we learned and then participated in a lionfish dissection. Lionfish are an invasive species that are damaging the ecosystem. Because the fish have no natural predators in the Bahamas (and elsewhere where they were introduced), have an abundance of food and reproduce rapidly, they have become a real problem. The students learned about the anatomy of the fish and then dissected some of their own (the staff had removed the spines). After the dissection, the group took the fish to the marina and fed it to the bull and nurse sharks that roam there. After dinner, the students learned about sharks: the different types of sharks, their positive impact, and how humans are negatively impacting the sharks, which in turn negatively impacts the overall environment. It was a great day of learning!

Thursday, instead of doing a morning activity, we packed up early and headed “Down Island.” We drove to a lookout spot to have our breakfast. The scene was beautiful and everyone enjoyed the view while munching on our cereal. They had some strong opinions about the powdered milk they were given with their cereal! We continued our drive and came to a point on the island where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean, called the Glass Window Bridge. The Atlantic side was a deep blue whereas the Indian Ocean was turquoise. There were beautiful rock formations as well. We stopped for lunch by a beautiful little cove where we enjoyed sandwiches and plantain chips. Afterwards, we stopped in a small local shop where some students did some early Christmas shopping! The next stop was the Hatchet Bay Caves. We learned about stalactites and stalagmites and were able to explore the massive deep caves. It is rumoured that Blackbeard’s signature is on the cave walls there, and although we didn’t find it, we did see signatures from as far back as 1880. After our cave exploration, we were able to stop at a beautiful beach and the students enjoyed jumping the waves. Instead of having dinner at the dining hall on campus, we went to a local restaurant and had a delicious meal including things like fried chicken, ribs and macaroni and cheese! Afterwards, we stopped at a local ice cream shop and had the fill of our favourite flavours. It was an excellent evening that I think everyone greatly enjoyed! 

Friday was our last full day at the School, and we were up early again. Although the windy weather prevented us from snorkelling near a small boat wreck, we went back to a familiar spot to jump off the platform and snorkel around. Just before we jumped in the water, we saw a turtle swimming around! After breakfast, we started a bit of our clean-up and did a little packing. Then we made our way to the Tingum Centre for a lesson on how the researchers there are looking into and applying sustainable design to the Island School. Currently, they are taking shredded cardboard and banana fibre and moulding it into reusable material. The students participated in shredding and cutting the banana, moulding the blended banana and cardboard fibres, and setting them to dry. These particular moulds were going to be used for canvases, but the researcher informed us that they also can use them as disposable plates. The plates can then be put in the compost on the farm. The students have really enjoyed learning how the different facilities at the Island School work together to create a more sustainable environment. After lunch, the students had the chance to go to the Island School store and then they finished their deep-clean of their dorms. Unfortunately, the weather stayed very windy and rainy, so the afternoon activities were limited. We did enjoy our last dinner with the staff and students at the Island School and ended our evening with some reflection and discussion and then a movie. We went to bed shortly after our movie, as we needed to be up at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning to begin the journey home.

Overall, our week at the Island School was a wonderful experience, filled with fun, service and great enrichment.

The following adventurous spirits comprised the 2022 Island School group: Rachel Bailey, Sara Baker, Kate Blain, Isabelle Browne, Anni Campbell Nikolovsky, Ayaan Chaudhary, Alex Chin, Charlie Ford, Katie Gunther, Reese Hudson, Mitchell Pogue, Abeigh Reason, Anna Tenngren, Mika Romao Vandepol and Eliza Wadds.

- By Laura Baragar and Brandon Black, faculty chaperones